Good exposure for the Jong Oranje

Whether the Oranje wins anything this summer or not, I don’t think that it would matter too much. I concede that the Euro 2000 tournament had me too heartbroken to even go to Form 6 school (not that Form 6 was that much motivation to all that trouble anyway) after the sickening Italy loss in penalties at home at the Amsterdam ArenA where captain Frank de Boer missed 2 penalties (one in regular time and one in extra time) which even the legend Pelé was unable to comprehend the incomprehensible by pointing the 2-finger symbol to his eyes when the camera chanced upon him.

The Italians rode their luck that time – the mighty Oranje had the grand opportunity to wrap the game but the inspired Francesco Toldo was in top-form and when a goalkeeper is in this sort of form (cue for van der Sar to replicate the same sort of form which won him his 2nd European Champions League title with Man Ure), you can never quite understand how a team can have so many attempts on goal smothered away.

So, it’s up to the Dutch to erase the painful memory of the loss to the Italians and to gain some sort of momentum to at least try for the winner’s medal. Wesley Sneijder has this to say about the team. Strong words or just the common mind-games -you decide. But I’m quite convinced that the team can actually gain something from this sort of games. A win over the fancied Italians would be the sort of right encouragement to douse the French fire and quell the Romanians who won in the rain back home when the 2 teams met in the same group during qualification for his Finals.

I watched the Wales-Holland match last weekend and although it was not really the sort of game to set the pitches alight, it was not short of entertainment. You can take many positives from the match – Arjen Robben proving very dangerous on the right flank; Nigel de Jong back in defensive midfield and making Demy de Zeeuw looked really amateurish. Even the tall Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink looked dangerous – but most of all, Dirk Kuyt of Liverpool was the fulcrum of the team. Pity he didn’t score with the header that day but you can see that it’s really exciting to see some player come of age and proving themselves for the reputations which their agents tout about them.

There are some nagging issues about the team though – the ace up the sleeves for the Oranje, Robin van Persie admits that he’s still not able to last an entire match. Quite right – he was the main force behind the Arsenal’s push for the title during the beginning of last season only to see his team fall short of winning anything when he was ruled out with that dreaded metatarsal injury. In the same news item, Marco van Basten conceded that Nigel de Jong was impressive in the match against Wales. We know that already, Marco. Stop playing Demy de Zeeuw if you can’t stop positioning Joris Mathijsen at centreback.

Still, I do admit that the Italians are a tough proposition to start a major tournament. Of course, it doesn’t take a tactician like Arsene Wenger to tell you that you need to win every single game to win the tournament, (duh) but with key defender Fabio Cannavaro ruled out with some damage to his ankle ligaments, you can be assured that the Italians have got some respectable cover for this strong defender, who played superbly in Germany to help the Azzurri win their recent World Cup in 2006.

Andrea Barzagli of Vfl Wolfsburg was quite steady during his World Cup match against the Ukrainians in the quarterfinals. Alberto Aquilani of AS Roma who was recently linked to and have rejected the Arsenal after Flamini signed for AC Milan was also supposedly under the Real Madrid radar. Big clubs don’t get these sort of relations with an average player – so he should be something despite me not having really watched him play except during the AS Roma vs. Man Ure match in this season’s Chimpions (Man Ure players are still simians e.g. Cristiano Ronaldo and the king chimp Ryan Giggs) League. Upfront, there would be Bayern dangerman Luca Toni and the ex-choker Alessandro del Piero who simply could not be written off just yet despite or perhaps, because of his age.

Then there are the other seasoned campaigners who could really make the difference between a nearly man and a champion – Fabio Grosso (really good during the World Cup 2006 win); Gianluigi Buffon who would still command a first team place in any team in the world; freekick specialist Andrea Pirlo; the bulldog Gennaro Gattuso and more. Strength for strength, Italy certainly triumphs over the Dutch –  so don’t expect it to be one where the free-flowing Dutch attack to materialize soon – but you may certainly expect some traditional Italian stubbornness in defensive roles.

The popular perception is that the Italians are favoured to proceed alongside the French – not so much because there’s too little confidence in the Oranje but there’s still the need to see scoreline come Monday after the match. After all, the World Cup finalists are pitted against each other again whereas the Dutch had a largely forgettable World Cup in 2006 (with enough reasons for me not to buy their Orange kit that time). France would be favourites to write off the Romanians and if the Dutch loses to the French in the 2nd match, then you can write the tables yourself. It’d be interesting to see how the French team matches the hardworking Romanians since ‘Les Bleus’ weren’t really that impressive in recent memory. There’s something which the current French team lacks since the turn of the century when Zinedine Zidane and co. were really in top gear. An ailing Patrick Vieira certainly won’t help things much but I’d say that the French and the Dutch have an almost equal chance to qualify but both have to peer back cautiously at the Romanians who can leapfrog both of them.

I think that the Dutch can have the chance to qualify for the knockout stages in place of the French but may succumb to the Italians first. Anything beyond the knockout stages would be a bonus. Let’s see if it’s true.

Oranje – Aanvalluh!

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